What seems like many, many moons ago, texting a friend shifted from whatever we were chatting about to the idea of putting together a writing retreat. Just a little getaway where we could meet up and write as if we were back in our college writing classes—only this time, with wine probably. We hadn't seen each other since graduation, over a year at that point. Living in different states, and life being as it is between work and other obligations, it's hard to plan get-togethers with former peers. We had a list of people we'd want to invite, threw around ideas to rent an Airbnb for a weekend, even talked about snacks and such. No concrete plans but mutual interest. And then the pandemic hit. With restrictions being lifted in many areas, I've been dreaming about the day I'm able to meet up with friends again and what I want to do when that time comes. Among the things on my list is embarking on a writing retreat. Since a girl can dream, now is as good a time as any to have some fun imagining what my dream writing retreat would be like. While I love the idea of taking this retreat to the English countryside or the Tuscany region, I'll be sticking to the United States for the purposes of this post.
Settling On A Setting
Convenience is something I would take into account if this retreat were to be with a group, so I would aim for someplace equidistant for all involved, but even a solo venture would likely have me in the same area. I went to college in the Berkshires, and one of the things I miss most about that experience is being able to walk out of the residence hall and see the mountains in the distance, especially on a crisp autumn morning when the foliage was at its peak color. If this hypothetical retreat does not take place in Massachusetts where my campus was located, I could see landing in Vermont, New Hampshire, or upstate New York. It's all about the view and surroundings. To be able to look out the window and be met with a view of trees and mountains in the distance again is something I long for.
Something In The Air(bnb)
Like I mentioned earlier, one idea that was floating around that conversation was renting out an Airbnb. As far as what I would personally look for in an Airbnb, the list would be shorter than the one I had when I was moving a few years ago because I'm not aiming to live there permanently but instead crash for a short while. While I love the look of Victorian homes and adore cottages to no end, the exterior isn't too great of a concern to me. What I do care about are the little things. The view certainly has its worth as suggested above, but I'm also interested in what is around me. Things like pools and hot tubs have their worth, and I'm always up for a swim or a soak, but when it comes to outdoor aspects, I would be mainly interested in where I could write outside. Whether this means I'm out on a patio, a deck, a balcony, or a porch doesn't matter too much to me. What I would hope for is a bit of a garden and some greenery. I would love to set up by some flowers, especially if it prompts the occasional visit from a passing butterfly or bumblebee. Writing outside is something I love and frequently do when the weather permits. Somewhere near a lake or a river and that the white noise of rushing water would be terrific but that's not really a deal-breaker for me. Interior amenities, however, are of more significance. Having enough outlets to keep phones charged and laptops running is vital, especially if this retreat involves a large party. Things like having enough outlets to keep our phones charged and laptops running are crucial in this day and age, especially if we use those devices for writing purposes, but a majority of inside aspects are more inconsequential to me. One thing I would personally love to have on-site is a fireplace. I've always wanted to spend an evening curled up writing before a crackling fire. Burning wood is one of my favorite scents, and there's something beautiful in the shadows flickering along the wall. Let me bundle up before the hearth in a cozy blanket with a mug of hot cocoa and a notebook and I'd be all set! Budgeting is a separate issue, as I would assume each participant would contribute to the cost if this were a group event and would open up more options than if this were just me.
The point of a writing retreat is to get away and write. For me, there is also an element of refreshing and regrouping, and new perspectives. Most likely, I would aim to take this as an opportunity to start a new project. I'm almost always in the throes of editing mode, but taking a break from that to focus on a new project might be the thing I need to clear my head so when I do come back to editing, I can tackle that work with refreshed eyes. Knowing my personal writing habits, I'd probably have the majority of plotting, baseline research, and other pre-draft business taken care of prior to the retreat so I could just dive in and write. This would also be a great opportunity to engage in some writing sprints and write freely. Writing sprints are an exercise I've recently reacquainted myself with, in which you write for a set period of time without letting yourself become distracted. I've been keeping myself to an hour max at a time because that's often all I can squeeze in with everything else going on, but I have the feeling a writing retreat would allow for longer stints. Getting out of town for a weekend and giving myself an entire afternoon to chase ideas sounds lovely and could be the thing to break that mental blinders editing tends to put on me as a writer. In the event of this being a group excursion with some friends, I could see us reviving practices from the writing courses we took in college. Workshops were a frequent activity in several classes, allowing us to get feedback from our peers. Each of these class periods would be divided into either halves or thirds, with one student's work becoming the primary focus for that block. Typically, we would email a document up to a certain page limit a few days before our turn or distribute a printed version in the previous session so our classmates would have ample time to go through the work. Instructors also encouraged us to include a set of questions regarding things we were especially concerned about to make sure we touched on those things. When these workshop classes were in session, some professors would ask another student to read the piece aloud so the writer could hear it a degree removed, as having this perspective can help pick up on the narrative flow and overall sound. Then the floor would be opened up to just talk about the work, answer any questions the writer had, and offer suggestions to improve the work. Most of the people I'd want to meet up with for this retreat were friends I made in these classes, so it only seems fitting that we spend set aside time for workshops. When and how our WIPs are distributed would largely depend on a couple of factors, namely what everyone is working on and where they are with their respective projects, but those details wouldn't take long to iron out. Being able to bounce ideas off fellow writers and talk through issues I'm facing helps me immensely, and I think it's good for writers in general.
While this is a writing retreat, I also think it's important to plan for some downtime to just kick back and hang out--especially if I'm doing this with friends I haven't seen in a long while.
If there's one thing I've learned this past year or so, it's the importance of slowing down and taking a break, and that goes for vacations.
Growing up, any family trips we did included at least one "Chill Day" to actually relax after many days spend sightseeing and on the go. When we went to Disney World, for example, we spent some time outside of the parks and explored Cocoa Beach and Daytona so my dad could see the track. Similarly, I think taking a similar approach with this writing retreat would be beneficial.
Writing is creative by nature, but it can also be a lot of work even in the exploratory phases of a first draft.
Being able to kick back and just hang out after an afternoon focused on the craft allows the mind to rest and gives you a chance to regroup. Personally, I love the thought of ordering a pizza, opening a bottle of wine, and playing Cards Against Humanity, Quiplash, or another game frequented in our college days.
I tend to say the thing I miss most about my time in college was my weekly radio show, but the truth is there is something I miss much more: my writing friends. Catching up before class, sharing ideas in peer workshops, or grabbing dinner in the cafeteria were the foundation for so many of my fondest memories. But more importantly, there were plenty of things I learned about writing through these conversations, and the absence of them since graduation and during the Coronavirus pandemic has only made me long for them more.
When this retreat happens, I'll may decide to write up a post about the experience. But part of me also likes the idea of keeping that time to just myself and my friends rather than posting it on my socials. After all, the goal of a retreat is to step back from the distractions and hassles of everyday life and recenter your focus.
To disconnect from the world and reconnect with writing.